Australia has more than 200 species of frogs, with almost 40 species considered threatened and four declared extinct. Kermit the frog couldn’t have said it any better, “it’s not easy being green”, as amphibian extinctions and threats are being exacerbated at unprecedented rates. Australian frogs are intolerant to anthropogenic habitat modification (i.e., roads, residential housing, and development, etc.), which is causing a large disturbance to frog habitat and intensifying implications for frog conservation. Underlining the importance in prioritising frogs in urban planning decisions to ensure long-term persistence. Climate change, pollution, introduced fish, diseases and parasites are other known exacerbating key threats causing frog population declines. We take a look at protecting the Australian frog population and how you can help.
Of the frog deaths recently reported, some have described symptoms like that of chytrid fungus (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis), which is a disease that attacks a protein in their skin (known as keratin); making respiration difficult and causing nervous system damage. Signs of this disease includes peeling skin and reddening, sitting out in the open, sluggishness and legs sprawled away from the body. The disease is transferred via direct contact and impairs the skins’ function, altering their ability to regulate water uptake and oxygen, causing fatality. There have also been reports of darker or lighter than normal skin and slow activity during the daytime.
It is still largely unknown if the fungus, along with cooler temperatures lowering their immune system is the key culprit of the deaths. The severity and how widespread the problem is remains undetermined, leaving uncertainty on how this will impact Australia’s frog populations. Species known to be hit by the outbreak so far are the stony creek frog (Ranoidea wilcoxii) and the beloved, iconic, green tree frog (Litoria caerulea).
Frogs need your help
Frogs under threat and frog population declines will impact the environment, no frogs, means no tadpoles (which feed on algae) and without them algae can flourish, clogging up streams. The animals that rely on frogs as food will disappear too, meaning two major ecosystem losses. No frogs could also impact on our health as frogs are an excellent form of pest control. Without them, mosquito larvae will increase in intensity, meaning more mosquito vectors, giving a higher potential of disease transmission to humans. Scary, right?
Now I bet you are thinking, what can I do about this? Well, this is the part where you come in. To help us achieve a greater understanding as to why frogs are dying, and to come up with a solution in time to stop the spread in its tracks, we urgently need you to take part in Australia’s national frog count. The FrogID app is a national citizen science project developed by the Australian Museum, which maps the distribution of frogs, allowing us to have a greater understanding of their habitat needs and monitoring which species are doing poorly compared to others so that we don’t lose any more frog species in Australia.
If you find a sick or dead frog
While there is a cry for citizen science, please do not come into direct contact with a frog carcass or touch frogs with your bare hands. Touching frogs or releasing them into other waterbodies could spread diseases. Instead, after you have recorded the information on the frog/s, if they are dead place them into a bag while wearing gloves to avoid direct contact, dead frogs can be buried or incinerated.
If the frog is alive and sick, wear dampened, clean and unused gloves being careful to pick them up by their body rather than their head or limbs. They can then be placed in a clean and damp cloth bag or ventilated plastic container (with a clean and damp cloth inside) and transported to your nearest veterinarian for examination.
Fun Fact:The Australian green tree frog secretes compounds from its skin that have antibacterial and antiviral properties to assist in defense against pathogens.
Other ways to help frogs
There are also many other ways you can help to protect the Australian frog population, such as creating a frog breeding habitat in your backyard. Building a DIY frog pond is a great way to help and involves excavating a hole with varied depths, laying a good quality pond liner, and surrounding the pond edges and base with rocks, pebbles, logs and native frog-friendly gardens. This is also a fun outdoor activity to enjoy with your kids. A perfect example of this can be seen below.
If you live in QLD the idea of a frog pond might make you squirm and insight your fear of cane toads (Bufo marinus), and as someone that was raised north of Brisbane, I understand that fear completely! Cane toads are notorious for their poisonous toxins and out competing with native animals, which is why it is more important than ever to support cane toad free ponds for your frogs.
Now, you’re probably thinking I’m insane, and how can that even be possible? Unfortunately, this method isn’t completely fool proof and will require a little work and monitoring on your part. The best method to help lesson the chance of the toad is building a raised frog pond with overhanging vegetation, frogs will be able to still access it, but toads will find this more difficult.
Now, back to the monitoring part, you need to watch out daily for eggs in the pond, toads make very distinctive black “necklace” eggs, which clings to vegetation. Quickly remove these and put them into the sun to dry out as the eggs hatch in only 24 to 48 hours after laying. If you don’t have the space at home to support breeding habitats for little Kermit, things like keeping your cat indoors (particularly at night), joining your local bushcare/landcare group to assist in vegetation restoration, avoiding putting chemicals down the drain (i.e., oils, paints, petrol etc.) and downloading (and using) the FrogID app will go a long way.
To download the FrogID app visit: https://www.frogid.net.au/
Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment (DAWE). (2010). The cane toad (Bufo marinus) – fact sheet. Australian Government, Retrieved from: https://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/invasive-species/publications/factsheet-cane-toad-bufo-marinus
Department of Planning, Industry and Environment (DPIE). (2021). Frogs in Sydney. NSW Government, Retrieved from: https://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/get-involved/sydney-nature/wildlife/frogs-in-sydney
DPI. (2021). Threats to frogs. NSW Government, Retrieved from: https://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/topics/animals-and-plants/native-animals/native-animal-facts/frogs/threats-to-frogs
DPIE. (2020). Frog chytrid fungus. NSW Government, Retrieved from: https://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/topics/animals-and-plants/native-animals/native-animal-facts/frogs/threats-to-frogs/frog-chytrid-fungus
Frog Save INC. (2021). How to identify toad eggs from frog eggs. QLD, Retrieved from: https://www.frogsafe.org.au/cane_toads/toad_frog.shtml
InspiriningNSW. (2017). Why frogs count. Retrieved from: https://inspiringnsw.org.au/2017/11/29/why-frogs-count/
Liu, G., Rowley, J. J. L., Kingsford, R. T., Callaghan, C. T. (2021). Species’ traits drive amphibian tolerance to anthropogenic habitat modification. Global Change Biology, 27, 3120-3132.
Northern Territory Government. (2018). Caring for frogs. Retrieved from: https://nt.gov.au/environment/animals/caring-for-wildlife/caring-for-frogs
Queensland Frog Society Inc. (2021). Sick Frogs. Brisbane, Retrieved from: http://www.qldfrogs.asn.au/sick-frogs/
Rowley, J. (2021). Dead, shrivelled frogs are unexpectedly turning up across eastern Australia. We need your help to find out why. Retrieved from: https://theconversation.com/dead-shrivelled-frogs-are-unexpectedly-turning-up-across-eastern-australia-we-need-your-help-to-find-out-why-165176
Sustainable Gardening Australia. (2021). Frog ponds. Bulleen, Victora, Retrieved from: https://www.sgaonline.org.au/frog-ponds/